Archives For Context Awareness

In his Google I/O keynote, Larry Page said “Law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old. Like, it’s before the Internet.”  Some people were riled up about that.  When I read about FAA re-considering it’s 50-year old ban on using gadgets on the flights, it reminded me of what Larry said.  While obviously some values don’t necessarily change with age, for anything that involves technology, I contend that 50 years is eternity.  Things just don’t apply as they did before.

We really are in an age where technology changes so rapidly and we are at the cusp of where technology really is taking over human labor in a big way.  How do lawmakers keep pace with this and how do we define laws in this society? I’m sure all of us have heard of ridiculous stories where someone has been pulled over for touching their phone in the car.  Yet, a study shows that the biggest diversion comes from paying attention to children in the car!  Do we turn around and create laws that prevent us from interacting with our kids in the car?  There would be an outrage if that happened!

I don’t know the answer to how we should be defining laws.  Part of the problem is that we cannot have one rule for amending laws across the board.  In the case of lawmakers, we are talking about folks who are at least one step removed from the pace of the technological changes most of the time.  But as it turns out, the technologists also fuel some of these stale rules.  Take the use case of automatically turning off your phone when detecting you are on a plane, for example – this one has been making the rounds in context aware research cycles for a while.  It works on the assumption that turning off devices on a plane is a given.  When technologists go after applications that support the outdated laws, it is a bad signal to me.

We need to be better at creating our own destiny – and by ‘we’, I mean the tech community.  We need to be able to distinguish when technology needs to bridge some gaps when the gaps make no sense and need to be addressed more fundamentally.  To really push the boundaries, that must happen.  And to really innovate, we must push the boundaries.

Is 50-years an eternity? In the world of self driving cars and networks on balloons, it most certainly is!  This doesn’t mean we change our fundamental human values every decade.  But, it does mean that the technologists help the government and lawmakers understand the leaps that have been made at some intervals such that our constitutional rights and laws can be kept relevant.

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The S4 from Samsung is the talk of the town.  It was a highly anticipated launch event and as with any such event, there was a good amount of criticism to go with it.  May be Samsung needs to be better at PR; may be the storytelling needs to improve.  Whatever be it, one thing you cannot accuse the company of at the moment is innovation on the product itself.  The focus on user experience is clear and the device has been receiving good reviews already with the early assessments.

The thing that strikes me the most is the sensor composition in this device – clearly, Samsung is setting itself up for the future.  Let’s start with the camera.  13MP camera in a phone – that has to be a marketing tick box!  The engineers know that the additional mega pixels are not buying anything on such a small device, with the real capabilities and limitations of the lens.  But, that’s not the coolest part about the camera.  It is the dual capture mode that is fascinating! Imagine the possibilities of inserting the front image or video into the captured scene!  Trying to buy a dress?  Take a picture of the dress and superimpose it on your photo captured at that moment with the front camera.  Be in the party you are capturing.  Capture the moment and don’t lose yourself.  The possibilities are really amazing!  The first round of this may not be perfect, but it is certainly heading in the right direction.  Not to mention the ability to capture sounds with images.  It is unclear how popular the sound capture would be – but, you have to applaud the company for its innovative thinking and focus on the user.

And then come the other sensors.  The Galaxy S family of devices have always been at the cutting edge of sensors, but this one adds the temperature, humidity and IR gesture sensing capabilities.  With the IR gesture sensing, a whole new world of gestures come into existence.  Touch gestures can go so far – but, IR gestures address so many limitations of always-on gesture sensing that exist solely with touch.  Touch gestures always have this limitation where differentiating between an intentional gesture and an unintentional natural use of the device is hard.  Or rather, it is at odds with natural gestures – the more natural a gesture needs to be, the harder it is to separate it from the unintentional use.  Hence, often, an external trigger is needed to know that it is actually a gesture.  However, the IR gestures can really help addressing this limitation and bringing the world of always-on gestures a step closer.

Temperature and humidity sensing are in early stages of use – however, interesting possibilities exist when fused with other types of data in terms of where the device is held (differentiating between a device that is in a pocket vs in a bag hung on a shoulder), what the environment is like and so on.

One step at a time, we see that Samsung is getting closer to a truly personalized experience.  It is interesting that they have chosen to go from “S Life” to “Life Companion” as the slogan for the device – it certainly seems like they are getting closer to delivering that experience!

Cupertino really needs to be worried – what will the next iPhone have that will stump this?